Recession Guide to Cheap Summer Fun

The best deals and discounts to help you have summer fun without going broke.

April 29, 2009, 6:20 PM

April 30, 2009— -- For many families looking to have some fun this summer, the recession might just rain on their parade.

Americans love going to baseball games, amusement parks, the beach and on vacation when the kids are out of school.

But this year, financial woes are dampening many families' plans.

There are still plenty of ways to have summer fun on a budget.

You can picnic, take a hike, go to the beach or take advantage of numerous other free outdoor adventures.

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But not everything is free.

Take the family trip to the ballgame. Major League Baseball has never been a bargain -- especially when you factor in food, drinks and souvenirs -- and ticket prices seem to climb each year. But this year there has been some backlash.

Some of the best seats at the New York Yankees' new stadium have remained empty, making the entire stadium look empty on TV. In response, this week the team decided to slash those expensive ticket prices from $2,500 a game (yes, $2,500 for just one game) to $1,250 a game. The Yankees also dropped ticket prices for other expensive seats from $1,250 to $650 a game.

The Texas Rangers are also cutting ticket prices to fill seats. On Friday nights, the team is offering "FANtastic Fireworks Friday" events. Tickets can be had for $10 instead of the normal $25 and you get a post-game fireworks show. Parking prices are also slashed from the normal $12 to $5.

Looking to save more money? Consider your local minor league team.

"Minor league baseball is a lot of fun and they are building these new, small stadiums that are really intimate and the players aren't rich and spoiled yet. So often times, you get a better baseball game out of it for a lot cheaper," said Charles W. Bryant, who co-hosts Stuff You Should Know on along with Josh Clark.

Many stadiums also offer deep discounts for the worst seats in the house -- those that might have a pole right in front of you. Buy those tickets and then see if you can sneak closer. Or roam around the public spaces in the stadium.

Free Movies

Summer is a great time to be outdoors. Clark notes that many communities offer free music or movies in the park.

"The park in the summer time is just a great place to do things for free," Clark said.

More of a blockbuster movie person?

"When I was I kid, my mom used to go to the bulk candy store, load up and basically stuff it in her purse and carry it in. I would never advocate someone breaking the law like that, but you can save some money by going to a matinee," Clark said.

Also consider drive-in theaters, which usually offer two movies back to back.

"I would say drive-ins are economical if you can stuff a couple of people in the trunk," Bryant said.

Also use this recession as a chance to reassess lessons for your kids.

"A lot of families are kind of suffering because you need to keep your kids entertained. Instead of being scared off by this, it's a good opportunity to teach your kids about money and the fact that sometimes things are a little tough," Bryant said. "Maybe open a lemonade stand with your kids and teach them the value of earning money. Literally take lemons and make lemonade in that case."

If you are a big thrill person, America's amusement parks are offering all sorts of deals to draw you in.

"If you walk up to the ticket stand in an amusement park you are failing yourself," Clark said. "If you look around, you can always find some sort of deals."

At Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pa., tickets have gone up $1.99 this year to $33.99 but park spokesman Jeff Filicko said he doesn't expect anybody to pay that price. Many school groups show up for $20 a person and a local grocery store chain sells discounted tickets at $23. There are also discounts through AAA and Pepsi cans.

"I always tell people, in reality there's no reason they should be paying gate admission because there are so many discounts out there," Filicko said.

Even with discounts, there is still some concern about the recession.

"Ironically, last season was our best season in history. Out of 110 years, it was a high point for us. So going into this next season, we are cautiously optimistic," he said. "Across the board, Kennywood has always focused on remaining a family value. That will always be our focus, regardless of how the economy shapes up."

Amusement Park Deals

Down the road at sister park Sandcastle Waterpark, season passes are on sale for just $50, a $15 savings, through June 30. The park hopes to lock people in with the early deals.

They are not alone in offering deals.

Disney World isn't lowering its admission prices, but it is throwing in free meals for families that purchase a five-night package at one of the resort's hotels. (Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)

SeaWorld Orlando is offering its unlimited admission pass for the price of a regular admission and Universal Studios in Florida is offering a two-park 7-day unlimited admission deal through its Web site.

In Connecticut, Lake Compounce canceled plans to boost its season ticket price $5 to $79.95 and is offering a preseason rate of $69.95.

Six Flags has also been aggressively pricing its season passes at its various parks.

Another option for many families are summer programs at local youth centers or community organizations.

For instance, America's 2,686 YMCAs offer a number of programs for families, such as camping, swimming, as well arts and humanities programs, sports and teen leadership classes.

"At YMCAs across the country, we don't turn people away from inability to pay," said spokeswoman Mamie Moore.

There is also help for families who have lost jobs. The YMCA of Metro Atlanta, for example, is supporting members who have lost a job by offering financial assistance so they can keep their memberships by paying the full dues for up to three months.